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Politics of Cross-Cultural Reading

Tagore, Ben Jelloun and Fo in English


Marion Dalvai

The last two decades have witnessed an upsurge in scholarship on world literature. In most of this work world literature is understood as a concept in intellectual history, as a cultural system or as a curriculum to be taught. Grounded in three empirical case studies, this book complements such approaches by asking what world literature in English is or has been and what role authoritative readers (translators, editors, publishers, academics and literary critics) play in constituting it as a field for others.
The ambivalent position of English as a roadblock to international visibility and as a necessary intermediary for other literary languages justifies a particular attention to what is presented as world literature in English. By emphasizing the constitutive function of cross-cultural reading, the book encourages reflection on the discrepancy between what is actually read as world literature and what might potentially be read in this way.
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By Way of Conclusion: Why Investigate Acts of Cross-Cultural Reading?



Why Investigate Acts of Cross-Cultural Reading?

The aim of this study has been to describe real, tangible acts of cross-cultural reading and increase awareness of the negotiations performed by translators, publishers, editors, literary critics and academics, on the one hand (they way in which specific works of world literature are currently read) and to point to the potential of reading these texts differently, based on contextual knowledge, an acknowledgement of the silenced voices in translation and an attitude of wordliness towards works of world literature, on the other. Readers have a tendency to assign the books they read a single, distinctive, ‘authentic’ voice, effacing the voices of agents other than the author who have helped shape a given version of a text. This book reverses that process in an effort to evoke the polyphony excluded by the focus on a single authorial voice.

In the introduction, I noted that in a highly competitive world in which ‘international visibility’ is often equated with ‘translation into English’, a literary work’s transnational standing as a work of world literature is fundamentally shaped by how it is presented in its English implementation. It is therefore necessary to investigate the network of agents involved in these processes of cultural transfer, both on a theoretical level as well as in a sample of quite diverse works of world literature in translation. By focusing on politico-cultural agents and factors that shape works of world literature in English...

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